Another Example of a Simple Idea That’s Spread From One City to Another

"Electric Jelly" at the corner of 6th & Main streets in downtown Boise, Idaho

"Electric Jelly" at the corner of 6th & Main streets in downtown Boise, Idaho Photo by Michael Grass

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In Boise, traffic box art has become an important visual element of the downtown streetscape.

BOISE, Idaho — When Route Fifty recently featured the expansion of a utility box public art program in Madison, Wisconsin—where designs from local artists and the community are wrapped around the ordinarily drab boxes that house traffic-control systems at signalized intersections—some readers chimed in to point out similar programs where they live.

Traffic box art is a great example of a simple idea that’s spread from one city to another over the years, something that’s been emulated and adapted by many communities. Taking an otherwise drab element from a streetscape, like a traffic box, and wrapping with art can be a relatively low-cost way to use existing infrastructure to liven up an ordinary sidewalk or street corner and bring attention to the work of local artists in the community.

Besides Madison, this approach has been used in Olympia, Washington; Chula Vista, California; and Tampa, Florida, just to name a few.

Boise has been wrapping traffic boxes for nearly a decade. It’s hard to miss them while exploring the city.

Pictured above is one example Route Fifty stumbled upon this past weekend at 6th and Main streets in downtown Boise. From far away, it looks like the art features mushrooms—which might be appropriate considering the number of Basque bars and restaurants on the nearby Basque Block that serve delicious sauteed mushrooms. But upon closer look, the mushrooms are actually jellyfish in a piece called “Electric Jelly” by Angi Grow.

Artists who apply and are selected through the program, which managed through a cross-sector partnership that includes the Boise Department of Arts and History and the Downtown Boise Association, are paid $1,000 for their designs.

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.

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